Taiwanese Soy Milk & My Transnational Story of Migration

BY ZIXUAN LIU / Feature Photo Credit: https://elizbeartravel.com/

From Yonghe District, New Taipei, to Shenyang, Manchuria, Bottled in 99 Ranch Markets

During my first twelve years of growing up in the former capital of the Qing Dynasty, Mukden, now called Shenyang in PRC, I never skipped breakfast. For most of my childhood, my mother always took me to this one breakfast shop called “Yong-he Dou-jiang”, a chain in China that solely served Chinese breakfast foods for all meals. We always had several yóu-tiáo, golden deep-fried strips of wheat flour dough, dipped in a bowl of fresh hot sweet soy milk. I grew up hearing about how “Yong-he Dou-jiang” was a Taiwanese franchise, and I always wondered how soy milk and yóu-tiáo were from Taiwan when every breathing person I knew had them for breakfast in my city. 

Fast forward to my new life in the Bay Area growing up as a 1.5-generation Chinese American, so many things have changed including speaking English with a unique blend of Californian and subtle Mandarin accent but what did not change was having soy milk and you-tiao for breakfast. My mother drove to the 99 Ranch Market for an hour every weekend just to secure soy milk and yóu-tiáo

From Manchuria to the Bay Area, I’m tracing the intertwining paths of food, the beloved breakfast foods of soy milk and you-tiao in Taiwan and the Mainland, and my Sino-cultural identity caught in the crosshairs of ROC & PRC geopolitics, history, and transnational migration. My path to becoming Chinese American is entangled with soy milk and you-tiao’s migration and branding as Taiwanese/ American.

To understand how my unique experiences intersected with soy milk from Taiwan, we have to trace the origin of the restaurant “Yong-he Dou-jiang”. This chain’s brand name and concept came from the first breakfast food stand in Yonghe District, New Taipei, Taiwan. [1] In 1955, Li Yun-tseng, a KMT veteran and Waishengren from Shandong, PRC, organized his veteran friends to sell soy milk and yóu-tiáo at the foot of a bridge for a living. [2] Li’s group of KMT veterans was part of a larger group of Chinese Civil War veterans who found their community in Yonghe District with a lack of economic opportunities. [3] The KMT veterans from Yonghe were an example that complicated the perception of Waishengren as “privileged outsiders” in Taiwan at the time, revealing that “a social underclass of impoverished/ disenfranchised KMT veterans” existed and strived for a better quality of life. [4]

Yonghe outlet at Ximending (Photo Credit: ElizBearTravel, shared with permission)

Following the blooming popularity of these Waishengren KMT veterans’ shop in the 1960s, countless breakfast restaurants of soy milk and yóu-tiáo sprouted in Yonghe District.[5] Yonghe, with a soy milk factory that manufactured the best soy milk on the island, was known as the district of soy milk. [6] In 1985, a Taiwanese businessman, Lin Ping-sheng, trademarked “Yong-he Dou-jiang” as a distinct Taiwanese branded chain restaurant and manufacturer. [7] “Yong-he” signifies the district of soy milk and “Dou-jiang” means soy milk in Mandarin, combined as a reference to the original food stand of KMT veterans. In the 2000s, the chain was officially introduced to the Mainland. [8] 

And that’s when I walked into the store at the age of six in 2008, ordering dòu-jiāng and yóu-tiáo, unaware of the complex Sino-cultural and political origins of these foods across the strait, questioning the Taiwanese branding. I was aware that these breakfast foods were synonymous with food from Shandong. Shandong, a province in China south of Beijing, was known for the best food made of wheat-flour such as buns and noodles that we, people from Manchuria, often had for breakfast. The crossover of foods from Shandong and Manchuria was a result of the mass migration of Han tenant farmers from Shandong to Manchuria to escape from the droughts in the mid 19th to 20th century, called “Chuang Guandong”.[9] Similarly, many KMT veterans in Taiwan came from the Shandong region, along with a significant number of Shandong exile students who came to Taiwan to escape from the People’s Liberation Army during the Chinese Civil War.[10] These Waishengren from Shandong brought their skilled wheat-flour food to Taiwan and Manchuria. And it’s no surprise that “Yong-he Dou-jiang” was the most popular breakfast restaurant in my city, Shenyang. When I was having soy milk and yóu-tiáo in Shenyang, another child in Yonghe District was probably simultaneously having them for breakfast. 

Yonghe Doujiang and Youtiao (Photo Credit: ElizBearTravel, shared with permission)

Now, walking into 99 Ranch Market, I crave for a taste of home through the exhilarating feeling of homecoming at the aisles of frozen yóu-tiáo and bottled soy milk. 99 Ranch Market, the largest Asian supermarket chain in the US, was founded by a first-generation Taiwanese American named Roger H. Chen. [11] 99 Ranch stores are mostly located in Mandarin-speaking immigrant suburbia, with a high concentration of Taiwanese American residents. [12] Since Oakland and San Francisco’s Chinese immigrant population was majority Cantonese from Southern China, my mother and I could hardly find ingredients and frozen food from Manchuria in Cantonese grocery stores. 99 Ranch Market was our sole refuge in the Bay Area. In the Asian American communities of Oakland and San Francisco, my mother and I felt that we had a closer connection with the Taiwanese American community because of Shandong-styled plain buns in Taiwanese brands, Taiwanese soy milk, and packaged you-tiao in 99 Ranch Market as well as our communications in Mandarin. 

From soy milk in Yonghe District, New Taipei, to Taiwanese branded soy milk in my bowls in Shenyang, Manchuria, I’m grateful that I’m still able to drink authentic tasting soy milk across the Pacific in the US. 99 Ranch Market becomes the geographical site of Sino-cultural food that transcends geographical borders of PRC, ROC, and the US. Soy milk’s story of migration is also a story of my migration, at the crossroads of Taiwan and Manchuria in the US through the history of dòu-jiāng and yóu-tiáo. From Shandong to Taiwan, from Manchuria to the US, I’m tracing the path of my Chinese American identity by drinking Taiwanese/ American soy milk, served on the streets of Yonghe, the tables in Shenyang, and the homes of Asian American families in California. 

Works Cited

About Us,” Shi Jie Soymilk King, accessed October 20, 2023. 


“Introduction,” Yonho.com, accessed October 20, 2023, 


Lanyon, Charley. South China Morning Post, March 11, 2019, accessed on October 20, 2023, https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/food-drink/article/2189231/story-99-ranch-market-largest-asian supermarket-chain-us. 

Wei, Clarrisa. “How second-generation owners of 99 Ranch are turning the Asian supermarket into a national powerhouse,” Los Angeles Times. July 7, 2023. 

https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2023-07-07/second-generation-owners-of-99-ranch-market-l os-angeles. 

Yang, Dominic Meng-Hsuan, and Mau-Kuei Chang. “Understanding the Nuances of ‘Waishengren’: History and Agency.” China perspectives, no. 83 (2010): 108–122. 

Yuqing, Dokelung, “吃了那么多年永和豆浆,你却不知道永和在哪?” Sohu.com, September 1, 2017, accessed October 20, 2023. https://www.sohu.com/a/168790528_113612. 

Zhang, Li-min. “A Brief Study of the ‘Chuang Guandong’ Immigration Wave” (in Chinese), China Economic History Forum, accessed October 20, 2023, 


永和豆浆,” accessed October 20, 2023. Baidu Baike, 

https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E6%B0%B8%E5%92%8C%E8%B1%86%E6%B5%86/4723885 #reference-7-260963-wrap.

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